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Salt Lake County Search and Rescue warn public after rise in fatalities

Posted at 9:24 PM, Jun 08, 2023

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah — It’s been a busy and tragic start to the summer for search and rescue operators in Salt Lake County – with more calls and deaths than they usually see.

Heartbreaking situations with people losing their lives while climbing in the Cottonwood canyons.

“We’re barely into June and we’ve already had 3 fatalities. That’s really a horrific thing,” said Sgt. Melody Cutler with the Unified Police Department.

One climber was killed by Rock Fall at Storm Mountain. The second in a fall on Outside Corner in Big Cottonwood Canyon. And the third was when someone rappelled off the end of their rope on the Great White Icicle and fell 300 feet.

All of them were experienced, prepared and skilled, but unfortunate things do happen.

Salt Lake County Search and Rescue posted part of this message to their Facebook Page:

“These are obviously horrible, horrible high-stress events for everyone involved. To promote awareness for future climbers and canyoners, it is worth bringing to light some of the events surrounding these tragedies as a reminder for each of us to keep constantly vigilant of the hazards of climbing and canyoneering. This is in no way intended to point blame at anyone involved in these accidents. We express our deepest condolences to the families and friends who have suffered these losses.”

Even being prepared and having the right skills doesn’t remove the risks of being in the mountains, especially this year.

“Even if you have been out climbing for the past 20 years, the mountains are different,” said Sgt. Cutler. “The water, all that erosion, the ice, everything that has occurred, is changing things.”

Another concern in the Cottonwood Canyons is the fast-moving water in the creeks. Officials say if you fall in, they are worried it’s more of a recovery than a rescue at that point.

“There’s a lot of people up here, not just our search and rescue," said Sgt. Cutler. "But our canyon officers and this pulls them away from the other canyons, those regular patrols, any sort of crime."

All the search and rescue crews are highly trained and volunteers, putting their lives on the line to help people in need.

“Climbing up these very steep, very dangerous inclines to help people, so keep that in mind in the back of your head," said Sgt. Cutler. "If you don’t have that skill level maybe you need to think twice because it’s not just you."